‘Gaming Disorder’: What You Need To Know

The World Health Organisation (WHO) handed down its latest iteration of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which describes addiction to videogames as being part of a “disorder”.

The WHO described “gaming disorder” as a “pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour” that becomes so extensive it “takes precedence over other life interests.”

ICD 11 is the latest update, with the previous update ICD released in 1999. The gap between these two publications is the longest in the ICD’s history.

Dr Vladmir Poznyak is one of the panel members who proposed the new diagnosis to the WHO’s decision making body, the World Health Assembly. Dr Poznyak recently told CNN that the new ICD is “not creating a precedent.”

Instead, he argues that the WHO is following “the trends, the developments, which have taken place in populations and in the professional field.”

In the CNN interview, Dr Poznyak clarified that the overall rate of this condition is “very low.”

“Millions of gamers around the world, even when it comes to the intense gaming, would never qualify as people suffering from gaming disorder,” Poznyak said.

“And let me emphasise that this is a clinical condition, and clinical diagnosis can be made only by health professionals which are properly trained to do that,” he said.

The handing down of the ICD comes after television show A Current Affair ran a segment warning parents of the dangers of the ‘addictive’ game Fortnite. It also follows US President Donald Trump blaming violent videogames for a recent school shooting in Florida.

Not all fun and games

Critics of the report have taken aim at its methodology, terminology, and what they suggest is the potential for the term “gaming disorder” to be misused.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has issued a statement criticising the WHO’s decision, suggesting that it stems from a weak research base.

“We note that, certainly, some individuals may overdo gaming,” the statement said.

“However, this is true for a wide range for activities, including sex, food, work, exercise, shopping, even dance.”

“We also express concern that a problematic diagnosis can cause significant harm by distracting clinicians from real problems and encourage treatments that remove coping mechanisms for stress without replacing them.”

“Further, a problematic diagnosis may promulgate policy efforts that restrict free speech and minors’ rights, without appreciable positive impacts.”

The APA statement calls on the WHO to not implement “diagnoses related to gaming at this time.”

Anthony Bean is a psychologist who operates a not-for-profit mental health clinic in Fort Worth, Texas. He has argued that the criteria used to determine “gaming disorder” is “too broad”. According to Bean, a licensed psychologist, the ICD does not adequately distinguish between moderate and severe cases of the “disorder”.

The ICD diagnosis is not “appropriately informed,” Bean said, since most clinicians do not understand the gaming population. There is, he suggests, a world of difference between why someone plays World of Warcraft versus Minecraft.

Bean suggests that mental health professionals find out what games their patients are playing, and guide them towards other games.

Jen MacLean is the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). In a thread of tweets, Ms MacLean took aim at the term “gaming disorder”.

Playing it safe

For those parents and loved ones concerned about someone’s gaming habits, Bean recommends becoming as informed as possible.

“That’s by far the number one thing that comes in with parents who have concerns is, they don’t even know what games are being played,” he said. The first thing to ask, he says, is “Why is this interesting to you?”

Ms MacLean recommended that parents monitor children’s gaming activity.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor




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